New to Blu: Arrow Video: Dark Water (2002) - Reviewed

In 1998, Japanese director Hideo Nakata changed the face of J-horror forever with his adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s novel Ringu, spawning both a sequel and an expensive Hollywood remake of the same name.  Quickly dubbed ‘the horror guy’, Nakata and Suzuki would reunite once more in 2002 with an adaptation of the short story Dark Water.  While not as effectively terrifying as the infamous Ringu which became the touchstone of modern J-horror, Dark Water is just as somber and eerie with its uniquely tragic take on the unfinished business ghost story. 

Concerning a young mother (Hitomi Kuroki) in the midst of a messy divorce who takes refuge in a worn-down apartment complex with her six-year-old daughter (Rio Kanno), the nightmare begins before the family even settles into their new flat.  As increasingly strange events occur including a steadily growing ceiling leak of dirty water, an elevator with a mind of its own and a child’s backpack that won’t go away ala the rubber ball in The Changeling, the mother soon learns a little girl vanished from the residence the year prior which may be the key to the otherworldly phenomenon...or worse… 

Part character study of a single mother under duress, part detective story horror thriller, it’s a slow burn of unfocused dread and contaminated water which gradually builds towards a shriek.  Clearly the work of the same novelist and film director, you can trace many of the audiovisual tropes, sense of hopelessness and fixation on demonic little girls with long hair back to Ringu.  There’s even a repeated shot in which the camera gazes upon the feet of a mysterious figure approaching the protagonist, evoking hazy unease as we’re not sure who is advancing other than the characters’ fear them. 

Reuniting with composer Kenji Kawai of Ringu and cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi, the sonic and visual design is bleak, desaturated and somber in tone.  Fans of blu-ray will find Arrow Video’s new disc of Dark Water to be a grainy grey-scaled watch with scenes where brightness and contrast are intentionally blown out so every corner of the long dark hallways are visible. Performances are strong across the board, particularly with Hitomi Kuroki as the frightened mother in over her head and uncertain as to whether or not what she’s seeing is real or just a mad hallucination. 

Would you care for some of my tasty soup?

In the wake of the success of Gore Verbinski’s remake of Ringu, it was only a matter of time before 2005 when Dark Water too saw an American redux with Jennifer Connelly in the maternal role.  Nowhere near as effective as the original yet not straying too far from the source in translation either, Dark Water in original form and remake still can’t help but pale in comparison to the film which put Hideo Nakata on the J-horror map.  It hits all the watermarks of Ringu with similar audiovisual motifs and kindred themes but never evokes full blown cutis anserina in the viewer.  As it stands, Dark Water is a solid horror thriller which will put you in a creepy place for two hours but Ringu in all honesty is the one to seek out first.


- Andrew Kotwicki